How to access free mental health and emotional support during the COVID-19 crisis
Whether you’re experiencing anxiety, addiction or abuse, confidential help is a call, text or click away
As the coronavirus pandemic changes everyday life in dramatic ways, it's also shaking the foundation of our psychological and emotional well-being. "Our basic premise for mental health is feeling safe and secure," explains psychiatrist Dr. Sabeena Chopra, who works with Stella's Place, a charitable organization providing support to young people in Toronto. "Now, we're facing such uncertainty — about our physical health, the health of our loved ones, our jobs, our housing."
Making matters worse, the COVID-19 crisis is also hindering what Dr. Chopra calls one of the most protective factors we have: social connection. "For some people, there is sometimes a great degree of social isolation even at baseline," she says, "but now we're all experiencing it, in a way we never have before."
If you feel alone, overwhelmed or in crisis, there's always someone you can call (or text) for help. Here are just some of the free, confidential resources available in Canada, depending on your needs.
If you're a young person in any type of crisis
For decades, Kids Help Phone has been picking up calls from youth in distress 24/7 and providing counselling. You can still phone 1-800-668-6868 for support, but if you don't have the privacy to talk out loud, there's a text-based program, too: the Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone, which is also free and available across Canada around the clock. To connect with a volunteer crisis responder, text "HOME" (or "PARLER" for help in French) to 686868.
If you're looking for one-on-one counselling
A non-profit initiative of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), eMentalHealth.ca has a thorough database of mental health programs available across Canada, for Canadians of all ages. You can search for services including counselling and therapy by location, then filter by criteria — such as age and "no fees" — to find community services near you.
To use Stella's Place as an example, the charitable organization's clinical team offers one-on-one counselling by phone and video chat to people aged 16 to 29 in Toronto; call 416-461-2345, ext. 0, or email email@example.com to book a virtual appointment. They also have a free mobile app, BeanBagChat, which connects youth who want to talk (but aren't in crisis) with a peer supporter or professional counsellor.
If you're an Indigenous person in distress
Funded by the Government of Canada and geared toward Indigenous people nationwide, the Hope for Wellness Help Line provides immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention. You can call 1-855-242-3310, available 24/7, to talk in English or French, as well as Cree, Ojibway or Inuktitut upon request. Or you can use the chat box on the website (English and French only).
If you're searching for anonymous community support
Big White Wall, funded by the Government of Ontario and free for all Ontarians to access, offers a way to find support from a like-minded community. It's an always-open online forum focused on mental health topics, where members dealing with similar challenges can help each other. (To ensure safety, the conversations, or "talkabouts," are moderated 24/7 by trained practitioners.)
If you're thinking about suicide (or are worried about a loved one)
Any time of the day or night, you can dial 1-833-456-4566 (available in English and French) to reach the Canada Suicide Prevention Service, run by Crisis Services Canada, a national network of non-profit distress and crisis service centres. From 4 p.m. to midnight ET, you can also text "Start" to 45645 for support (currently only available in English), but do note, their website warns that online and texting services are slower at the moment, so they are encouraging calls instead.
If you're struggling with substance use
If the pandemic is exacerbating feelings of anxiety or depression and driving you to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, you're not alone. But substance use can make mental health problems worse, as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes. For support, contact an addiction helpline in your province/territory; the Government of Canada maintains a list.
If you're experiencing domestic violence
Social distancing and stay-home isolation — the measures required to flatten the curve for COVID-19 — mean people at risk of abuse may not be able to access the support and protection of friends and family.
If you're in an abusive situation but are unable to leave your home right now, you can still call a shelter near you to receive information or just to talk — you don't have to be staying at one to get help. (Similarly, if you need advice on how to support a loved one experiencing domestic violence, you can contact a shelter for that, too.) ShelterSafe.ca maintains a comprehensive, clickable map of women's shelters across Canada, most of which have staff ready to answer your call around the clock. It also has a list of provincial/territorial domestic violence crisis lines.
Ending Violence Association of Canada, a non-profit organization, has a list of sites and phone numbers of resources across Canada for victims of domestic abuse and those affected by it. They also note that if you're in immediate danger, you should call 911.
Wing Sze Tang is a beauty and health writer in Toronto. Find her at wingszetang.com.